The Brother MFC-9970CDW color laser multifunction printer tackles the full laundry list of small-office and workgroup print/copy/scan/fax needs, outdoing every competitor in its price range (US$700 as of July 18, 2011) and offering cheap toner to boot. The only thing wrong with this picture is, well, the picture: Its photo quality is middling, and its color scans can be overly dark.
Detailed paper-installation instructions make setup easy; the included CD walks you through the process with sufficient hand-holding. You can find the documentation in PDF form on the CD, although Brother encourages you to look at the latest version online. In addition to USB and ethernet connections, the MFC-9970CDW has Wi-Fi, still a rarity among color laser MFPs.
The legal-size scanner is a high-end touch on a machine that's already well equipped.
Paper handling includes both a 250-sheet main input tray and a 50-sheet multipurpose tray. An optional 500-sheet input tray costs $250 from Brother, but I found lower prices online. The MFC-9970CDW prints and scans in duplex (two-sided), the latter via the 35-sheet automatic document feeder. The 150-sheet output tray is adequately sized, but it skulks, cavelike, underneath the control panel, making output a bit hard to reach -- or maybe I'm just paranoid about putting my hand into small, dark openings.
The slanted front control panel sports clearly labeled and organized buttons, with a 5-inch color LCD that makes navigating menus very intuitive. The MFP also has a front USB port.
The MFC-9970CDW gets the job done quickly, if not always perfectly. In our speed tests, printing mostly plain text with a few simple grayscale graphics, the machine posted an impressive rate of 15.7 pages per minute on the PC and a slightly better result on the Mac (15.8 ppm). Snapshot-size photos printed from the PC at above-average rates (3.2 ppm overall). One of our hardest tests, a high-resolution, full-size color photo printed on the Mac, exited at a swift rate of 1.3 ppm. PDF prints, as well as copies and scans, were also fast. The Oki MC561 is even faster, but the MFC-9970CDW bests it in other respects.
The output quality is more pedestrian, but still satisfactory for most mainstream-office use. Text and monochrome copies looked good. Color images showed yellowish and sometimes grainy or blotchy qualities. Color scans disappointed us the most, looking very dark.
Standard-size supplies ship with the MFC-9970CDW. Replacement costs are refreshingly affordable -- especially when you see that the like-priced Xerox WorkCentre 6505/DN is charging significantly more than average. The MFC-9970CDW's standard-size black cartridge costs $63 and lasts 2500 pages, or 2.5 cents per page. Each 1500-page color costs $70, or 4.7 cents per page. A four-color page would cost 16.7 cents. The high-yield supplies are even better, working out to 1.9 cents per page for black (the $117 cartridge lasts 6000 pages) and 3.6 cents per color, per page (each $125 cartridge lasts 3500 pages). A four-color page would cost a low 12.7 cents.
Brother's MFC-9970CDW stands out from other models in its price range because it hits certain sweet spots -- speed, features, and cost per page. Although it could stand to improve in photo quality and especially scan quality, it might offer enough bells and whistles for many small offices to overlook the shortcomings.